October Lament

This piece took a while to come together. When I originally workshopped it, I had the first and third verses and the melody pretty set, and I thought the same for the second. But after some feedback, the second verse came together to this version, and I think it works better than my original lines. Which is why we workshop and get feedback, eh? It felt, and still feels, a bit short, especially since I was going for a ballad (see “documentation” below), but every attempt at expansion ended up feeling forced and trite and smelled distinctly of cheese. This is another one of those I consider to be in the vein of “SCA traditional.” Hope you enjoy!

October Lament

E                                                                           A                   E
How many roads have you traveled, what hard days have you seen,
E                             C#m7                A         B
In the light and the shadow and the valleys between?
            E                                                     A                 E
Shall I watch for your coming, ‘neath the sun and the rain,
E                            C#m7             A           E
And when, oh my friend, shall I see you again?

For the winter was coming, and the trees whispered low
That you’d left in the night on the dark paths below.
With no news of your parting we searched all in vain,
When, oh my friend, shall we see you again?

Will you travel these roads and return in the spring?
Will the trees speak your coming in their new clothes of green?
Will you return to our memory in the sun and the rain,
And when, oh my friend, shall we see you again?

What’s in a Ballad or, The Documentation

A survey of 16th-century ballads returns a selection of songs that span a wide spectrum of topics from the sacred to the secular. Some tell a linear story, while others relate a casual encounter (“The vertuous maids resolution. Or The two honest lovers” 16??) or ruminate on a topic, such as death (“The lamenting lady’s farewel to the world” 16??) (Libraries). While this piece is much shorter than most of the traditional ballads that have survived, I have modeled its construction on the strong rhythmic sense, the aabbcc, etc., rhyme scheme, and the tune that moves along a melodic line with a late-period sense of progression and resolution.

When I perform this piece, I rarely give an introduction that includes more than the name of the song, and the fact that it is an original piece. I leave it to the audience to imagine to whom I’m singing. Is it a friend who has traveled temporarily? A loved one who is seen only rarely? A missed chance at a connection from long ago? Alas, the one for whom I sing this Ballad shall be seen again only in the words of my song and the memory of those who loved him.

References

Libraries, Bodleian. Broadside Ballads Online. n.d. 14 May 2020. <http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/&gt;.

Someday I will learn how to sing on a video without looking constipated …

The North Star or, The Privateer’s Compass

As the Bard of the Oaks (which position I held during 2019), I was very lucky to work for not just one great Baron and Baroness, but for their equal excellent successors. As I was getting ready to step down, the Baron requested I write a song for his lady. They had both started in the SCA with pirate personas, and the occasion was a Masked Ball with a piratical theme. He wanted a song that used the imagery of the North Star pointing home. It took a bit of time to get this song completed, and then there wasn’t enough time to debut it at the ball. I was then going to perform at an event in March … but of course The Plague arrived and exiled us all to our domiciles. I took the time of the delay to workshop the piece the the Mists Bardic workshop, and received some good feedback. I also sat down and wrote out the chords. Once I was comfortable I had the piece where it needed to be, I sent a private recording to His Excellency. His reaction to the piece, and Her Excellency’s, was one of gratitude, and I was glad to have been able to have the honor of making a gift of it to them. At the Baron’s encouragement, I then published the piece via Facebook (embedded below.)

Shortly after, I received a compliment in the form of a Bard requesting the chord sheet and lyrics. In the hopes that this song might strike a chord with a fellow performer, or just in case I need the lyrics and chords at some future time, I am setting them up here. I hope you enjoy it!

NORTH STAR, or, The Privateer’s Compass

By Lady Teresa of Attilium

CHORUS:

Bm7                                    C                             G
I hear your voice in the wind that fills our sails
             D                   G                       G/C                D
In the clear, bright dawn and the sun over our rails
              G                     D                     C                                     G
Like the seabird that flies o’er the waves that crash and foam
              G                                              C             D                G
Like the North Star above us, your light will guide me home.

VERSES

Verse 1
G                                       D                    C                            G
It’s been three months out and our journey soon will end
                                                            C                       D
And we’ll hit the misty shore our money for to spend
G                     D                          C                      G
But of all the treasure we’ve taken for our own
G                                                 C          D            G
Your light on the horizon, all others has outshone.

Verse 2
And now the lookout shouts that he’s spied the far-off land
And the men send up a cheer, for our liberty’s at hand
As we bend to the sails and our ship leaps toward the shore
I swear once again that I’ll set to sea no more

Verse 3
But when we hit dry land, a whisper comes to ear
The call of the waves and my duty calls me clear*
And though I have pledged on the shore to dwell and stay
I know that to the sea my path will finally stray.

Verse 4
My duty to my King nor my Lady I’ll not fail
Though I turn my gaze once more to the wind and to the sail
And you promise me that you’ll guide me ever true
So I return to the waves, with the memory of you.

*Originally: “I must heed”

Me playing and trying to look like I’m not reading the words off a cheat sheet…

As a note: This is the sort of song I like to refer to as “SCA Traditional,” in that it owes its lineage to songs written throughout the history of the SCA that reflect the Celtic – sea shanty – folk music amalgamation of traditions that sometimes show up when we write. As such, there is less in the way of documentation, but there is precedent and a place for it in the SCA Bardic tradition.

A Priamel or, Don’t Be “That Lord”

When I started to generally ease my way back into the SCA, one of the goals and intentions I set for myself was to learn more things that my persona (late 16th-century German bourgeoisie) might have encountered. As I am interested in the Bardic arts, I decided to look for some German poetry forms, and chanced upon the “priamel.” I originally found it in Todd H.C. Fischer’s excellent encyclopedia of period poetry forms, Ossa Poetices. From there, I found the additional references I list at the bottom of the page. I recently entered this poem into the Poeta Atlantiae competition, and was gratified that people found it funny (although to be honest, there was a certain cheekiness in writing the poem about certain people in the Kingdom and then submitting it to a poetry contest in said Kingdom, but poking fun at important people is a documentable practice, so I stand by my complete and total lack of regret at doing so.)

I did receive some excellent feedback, particularly in the area of my documentation. One judge suggested that they wanted to see a documentation that would give them enough information to go and try their hand at writing their own poem. I’ve taken this under advisement, and I’m actually thinking of creating a class on writing priamels. Just one more thing on the old to-do list. In the meantime, here is my crack at writing this particular pithy poem-form.

A Priamel or, A Pithy Warning Upon Being “That” Lord

The bow that at self-glory aims
And finds itself a different fame;
The fencer who in preening wit
O’er lunges and ends up in the shit;
The steward who hastens to bend the knee
When a noble breaks wind in his company;
The pupil who his own lesson makes hard
Learns—never, ever piss off a Bard.

What is a Priamel, or The Documentation!

A priamel, according to William H. Race in The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius (Race 2): “…refer[s] specifically to a minor poetic genre composed primarily in Germany from the 12th to the 16th centuries.” The form consists of a set of short, pithy statements, sometimes paradoxical, wrapped up in a final, culminating verse that works similarly to a punchline. While certain historians have placed the priamel as a form within a developing continuum from classical times, the German form is more likely original to Germany in these centuries, and is a form that combines a “series of parallels ideas along with an artistic viewpoint and seeks to bind them to a central unity.”[1] These poems often lent themselves to a satirical theme, and the final stanza was often quite pointed.

My study of this form stems from an enthusiasm for learning about the poems and literature my 16th-century German persona might have encountered; as a popular “Volkspoesie,” or folk poem, it is likely I would have heard someone dash off a witty priamel or, perhaps, as a middle-class merchant family, been the butt of one.


[1] “Demnach ist das Priamel [ein Form] die eine Reihe paralleler Einzelheiten in bestimmten Formen mit künstlerische Absicht zu einer inneren Einheit zu verbinden sucht.” (Euling)

References

Euling, Karl. Das Priamel bis Hans Rosenpluet. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977.

Race, William H. The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius. Boston: Brill, 1982.

Darkwood Shanty

Last December, the Darkwood Baroness’s Masked Ball had a seafaring theme, with a nod to the new Baron and Baroness who, when first joining the SCA, had piratical personas. As I was leading the Bardic competition to find my replacement, I was able to name the tunes for the contest. One of the categories was “Twisted Sea Shanty.” Since it was my last command performance, I decided to write a shanty specifically for the Barony, and offer it as a token of time my there. It can be sung to many a shanty tune … including, apparently, Sponge-Bob Squarepants. Enjoy getting it out of your head!

Darkwood Shanty

Upon the horizon the gray cliffs do rise
Haul away now, the wind and the foam.
The strong oaks of Darkwood stand tall ‘gainst the sky
Haul away for Darkwood our home.

For many long weeks we’ve stood hand upon oar
Haul away now, the wind and the foam.
With our ship’s cargo full we’ll turn now for the shore
Haul away for Darkwood our home.

The harbor is sheltered from waves and from wind
Haul away now, the wind and the foam.
Our loved ones are waiting to gather us in
Haul away for Darkwood our home.

We’ll drink and be merry and dance through the night
Haul away now, the wind and the foam.
With a right willing heart we’ll greet dawn’s early light
Haul away for Darkwood our home.

And when upon shore all our money is spent
Haul away now, the wind and the foam.
It’s back to the waves and the sea air’s salt scent
Haul away for Darkwood our home.

A view from the Monterey coastal trail, looking out into the bay that served as the inspiration for this little ditty.

My Lady Mercy

My time as the Bard of the Oaks is now over, being taken over by the lovely and talented Sholeh of Susa. However, I am still working on getting the lyrics to the songs I wrote during my tenure up on the web. Eventually, I may even sit down and transcribe the melody into a lead sheet and then make a little video performance. Eventually … Anyway, this was a piece that was, as the info below notes, commissioned by the Baron of Darkwood, Carrek MacBrian. He was not yet the Baron, but had been elected, along with his Lady, Mercy Grym. He had pulled me to the side and asked if I would write a song for her, and of course, how could I turn him down? I had a chance to sing it for them at night around the Baronial tent, and though the performance was interrupted by the longest train whistle EVER, I think that I did please those for whom I sang this ditty.

My Lady, Mercy
Lady Teresa of Attilium
In service to His Excellency, Baron Carrek MacBrian

Late e’en when the seabirds call
I traveled on a road
That led me to garden fair
Some gentle hand had sowed.
And from its walls I glimpsed a view
Few others did obtain
And touched my hand unto the gate
That I might enter in.

First greeting me was green Ivy,
Who grew upon the stone
Embracing with her cool, dark leaves
The walls on which she’d grown.
I bowed to see her waiting there
With great sincerity,
The picture of her quiet strength,
Lady Fidelity.

Next came Heartsease, merry flower,
Tri-colored in its face
A carpet for the garden floor,
Most comforting its grace.
“Oh, happy flow’r,” I spoke to her
As on the path I went,
And smiled to think of her so well,
My Lady Merriment.

Tall Foxglove next, with bells of gold
And white stood straight and sure,
This beauty whose bold petals both
A man could kill or cure.
This stately bloom did nod her head
With calm civility,
And beckoned me along the way,
My Lady Dignity.

Amidst these pleasant flower beds,
A might Oak did spread
Her limbs o’er every fruit and flower
That rested in its bed.
For in her shadow none are feared
To lay their heads to sleep,
A nurturing eye o’er all her buds,
My Lady, Steadfast, keeps.

A Lady whose bright talent wove
A home to rest secure,
The hand that sowed these faithful blooms
Has made this to endure.
This garden is a place for all
To enter freely in
And find a welcome from her hands,
My Lady, Mercy Grym.

The Way of the Penguin

During the past month, I’ve been spending a bunch of time in my head, wondering what my actual path in the SCA might be. A conversation with an old friend kicked off this particular bout of introspection. She is an apprentice, which means that she has chosen the path of deep study in the Arts & Sciences, with the hope and goal that someday the Peers in the Society will recognize that she has attained mastery of her chosen craft and recognize her with the title of “Master.” This is a great and worthy goal, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to study with a variety of men and women who have themselves traveled on this path.

And yet, as we talked, I realized that as much as I love learning and doing research and making stuff and exploring how people did stuff in the SCA period of history … this is not my path. (Maybe yet, maybe ever … ) Instead, through a slip of the tongue, I stumbled upon my own path in the SCA.

The Way of the Penguin

Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Learning for the sake of learning. Finding the reason to try something new, to develop and teach a class, to redact a new recipe, to attempt a new knitting design … all for the intrinsic enjoyment within that task.

For me, there are two things that motivate me to work on an A&S project, whether it be fiber arts, Bardic arts, fencing, or my long-neglected leadership and persona reading projects.

The first is the enjoyment that I get from the activity in and of itself. There is a certain goodness that I find in figuring out how words and a melody come together, or reworking a medieval stocking pattern until it finally fits comfortably on my leg, or (finally) finishing a new tunic to fence in that isn’t 20 years old and falling apart. I credit my parents with instilling in me the ability to find my own validation in pursuit of developing a talent. In fact, I clearly remember my father, trying to get me to practice the piano (always a hard task for someone with perpetual squirrel brain), encouraging me by saying that, at some point, the act of playing and practicing would become enjoyable even if I wasn’t performing or getting it perfect. You know what? My old man was right. (There it is in black and white … 😀 )

The second thing that motivates me is when I am making something to give to someone. Most of my knitted objects and a good many of my songs are meant as gifts for others. I get a kick out of plotting a careful design, trying things out, putting something together and, finally, presenting it to the intended recipient. That moment of their reaction is honestly what I find to be the best thing I could get in return. I especially enjoy doing this for people who are either not expecting it … or are not members of Royalty or Peers, and thus not people who are in positions in the SCA where people make or do things for them. They are a way of giving someone a token that says: thank you for being a friend to me. Thank you for being a friend to Haus zum bellenden Hund.

So what, exactly, is the Way of the Penguin? For me, it is a Way that gives people a path to independent scholarship, to doing things because they find joy in them, to helping them decide how much of themselves they can give to this hobby, whether it be contributing to the SCA’s body of knowledge by doing research and experimental archaeology, or giving generously of their gifts of time and service outside of the Path to Peerage. It is a Way that says, everyone is valued for what they contribute to our organization, and if you find that the Path to Peerage is not for you, then come join us on the Way of the Penguin. (We have cookies … or oranges … or mead, depending on what Robert Callum has been cooking up in the Haus zum bellenden Hund kitchen.)

At first when I thought I about this, I wondered if I should go about making this a formal thing. Maybe we needed a badge? Or something formal? But, no. The Way of the Penguin is all about what you make of it. So if you would like to try your hand at embroidery, and decide to make a favor with a depiction of a penguin, go for it! If you would like to write a song about the strange birds that live in the South, that explorers have glimpsed during their voyages around the Cape, go for it! If you would like to try your hand at a penguin subtlety, go for it! If you never make anything penguin-themed, yet go your own Way in your pursuit of what interests you in the SCA, go for it!

(But Teresa, you can’t just make something up, this is the SCA! Why yes, I know. But the Way of the Penguin is also a little punk rock, so pull out that hurdy-gurdy, let’s throw on some tunes, and start making art, or smacking that pell, or volunteering to work Gate, or whatever makes us happy. I’ll see you at the next Event!)

~ ~ ~

UPDATE: After publishing this and inviting comment on my Facebook page, I received some great comments. A friend pointed out that, as a point of fact, someone on the Peerage Path would ideally be on that path through an intrinsic motivation, not in the hopes of receiving reward. This rings true with the vast majority of Peers I have met. They are giving of themselves, their time, and their talents, no matter what color belt they wear, or if you have accepted their patronage. However, as another friend pointed out, being a Peer is a job, and not one that everyone is interested in interviewing for. And that latter perspective is the one I hoped to think about in this blog post. There is a great deal of visibility for the traditional paths; I would like to make present an alternative to those paths, just in case anyone is thinking along these similar lines.

 

The Heart of Darkwood

I wrote this poem prior to White Shield with the intention of presenting it at evening feast to Their Excellencies, Brid and Jared. As it turned out, trying to make it all day, and then late into the evening with no spouse and two toddlers is not conducive to being able to do anything except bow out early and return home. I ended up posting the poem in the Barony Facebook page, and Her Excellency had a favorable reaction. At March Crown, Brid and Jared stepped out, and Their Excellencies Carrek MacBrian and Mercy Grym stepped up. Brid did me the honor of inviting me to lead their procession into the West Kingdom Court, which I did, proceeding slowly and ceremoniously and stopping thrice to sing out a verse each time. It was just the mix of theatrical flair and solemn occasion that warms the heart of a Bard so very much! (Hey, I gotta take the opportunities where I find them!) I have a particular fondness for this piece, and for the Barony and its leadership for which I wrote it.

Also, I’m kind of proud of the fact that when I wrote it, I actually used a modal scale, which means this is one of the first pieces I’ve written that begins to approach a historical model, musically speaking. Next, I’d like to start tackling 16th-century art songs and using them as both performance pieces and inspiration for writing.

Heart of Darkwood

Verse 1

Under oak and circling crown
Where hart and hawk do seek their rest
On mountain path, in sleeping Stadt,
Midst scholar’s deep and dusty quest–
There I sought a heart of joy
There I sought a heart of strength
There I sought the heart of Darkwood

Verse 2

And so I wandered far afield
And bade good gentles as we met
To tell me true if they could say
Where such a treasure was to get?
Where could I find a heart of joy?
Where could I find a heart of strength?
Where could I find the heart of Darkwood?

Verse 3

Their answers came with proud delight
My journey was near at an end
A gracious Lord and Lady might
Reach out their hands in welcome, friend:
Our Baron is our heart of strength
Our Baroness our heart of joy
And we shall hold them in this place-

The living Heart of Darkwood!